How to become a nurse

What does a Nurse do?

Are you eager to learn how to become a nurse in the United States? Let’s check out the journey to becoming a nurse because it may be far less daunting than you realize. In this guide, we’ll shed light on the various pathways available to aspiring nurses. Your choice will hinge on several factors, including your current commitments, financial situation, and your nursing career aspirations. Watch a video to learn how to become a registered nurse.

Types of Nursing Professionals

Before embarking on your nursing journey, it’s crucial to grasp the various professional titles within the nursing field. The following lists starts with the career that requires the least amount of education and training and works it’s way up to the nursing career that requires the most training and education.

  1. Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  2. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  3. Registered Nurse (RN)
  4. Advanced Practical Registered Nurse (APRN)

Nursing is a profession that goes far beyond the white coats and stethoscopes. It’s a calling, a vocation driven by compassion, and a dedication to caring for others. Additionally, a career in nursing offers numerous rewards, both personal and professional, making it one of the most respected and fulfilling fields in healthcare. You can also learn more about other fields within healthcare by taking our free healthcare career test!

A Career as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

If you have a passion for helping others and aspire to start a rewarding career in healthcare, becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) could be your ideal path. CNAs play a crucial role in providing basic care to patients in various healthcare settings. Let’s walk through the steps to become a CNA in the United States.

Understand the Role of a CNA

Before diving into the process, it’s essential to comprehend the responsibilities of a CNA. For instance, CNAs work under the supervision of licensed nurses and are responsible for tasks such as:

  • Assisting patients with daily activities (e.g., bathing, dressing, eating).
  • Monitoring vital signs like blood pressure and temperature.
  • Keeping patient records.
  • Providing emotional support to patients and their families.
  • Ensuring a clean and safe patient environment.

Steps to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

To become a CNA, you must meet specific eligibility criteria, which typically include:

Step 1: Education and Eligibility

Before pursuing CNA training, ensure you meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • A high school diploma or equivalent (GED).
  • Being at least 18 years old.
  • A clean criminal background check.
  • Negative tuberculosis (TB) test results.
  • Proof of required immunizations.
  • Basic communication skills and empathy.

Step 1. Enroll in a State-Approved CNA Program

Search for state-approved CNA programs in your area. These programs are offered by community colleges, vocational schools, and some healthcare facilities. The curriculum typically covers topics like anatomy, infection control, and patient care skills. CNA programs typically last from a few weeks to a few months, depending on your state’s requirements.

Step 2. Complete Classroom and Clinical Training

CNA training programs include both classroom and clinical components. During classroom sessions, you’ll learn about essential medical concepts, while clinical training provides hands-on experience in a healthcare setting. You’ll work under the guidance of experienced nurses, gaining valuable practical skills.

Step 3. Pass the CNA State Exam

Upon completing your training program, you must pass the state competency exam to become a certified nursing assistant. The exam includes a written portion and a skills assessment. Study diligently and practice your clinical skills to ensure success.

Step 4. Apply for State Certification

After passing the exam, you can apply for CNA certification through your state’s nursing board or a similar regulatory body. Some states may also require a criminal background check and fingerprinting as part of the application process.

Step 5. Secure Employment

With your CNA certification in hand, you’re ready to embark on your career as a nursing assistant. Job opportunities for CNAs can be found in nursing homes, hospitals, home healthcare agencies, and assisted living facilities. Craft a compelling resume highlighting your skills and experience gained during your training.

Step 6. Consider Specializations

As you gain experience as a CNA, you may choose to specialize in areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or mental health. These specializations can open up new career opportunities and potentially increase your earning potential.

Step 7. Maintain Certification

To maintain your CNA certification, you’ll typically need to complete continuing education requirements, including a specified number of hours of in-service training. Be sure to stay up-to-date with your state’s specific renewal requirements.

Step 8. Pursue Further Education

While not required, some CNAs opt to pursue further education, such as becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or a Registered Nurse (RN). These career advancements can lead to higher salaries and increased responsibilities within the healthcare field.

Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant is an excellent entry point into the healthcare industry. It offers a rewarding career path with opportunities for growth and specialization. By following these steps and meeting the requirements in your state, you can embark on a fulfilling journey as a CNA, making a positive impact on the lives of patients and their families.

A Career as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

If you have a passion for healthcare and a desire to make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients, embarking on a career as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) in the United States may be your ideal pathway. LPNs play a vital role in the healthcare industry, providing essential care and support to patients under the guidance of registered nurses and physicians. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll outline the steps to becoming an LPN and explore the exciting opportunities this profession offers.

Understanding the Role of an LPN

Before diving into the journey of becoming an LPN, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the responsibilities and contributions of this healthcare role. Licensed Practical Nurses are responsible for a range of crucial tasks, including:

  • Administering medications and treatments as prescribed by physicians.
  • Monitoring and recording vital signs, such as blood pressure and pulse.
  • Assisting patients with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and feeding.
  • Providing emotional support to patients and their families during challenging times.
  • Collaborating with registered nurses and healthcare teams to ensure comprehensive patient care.
  • Maintaining accurate patient records and reporting any changes in the patient’s condition to the supervising nurse or physician.

Steps to Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Step 1: Education and Eligibility

Before pursuing LPN training, ensure you meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • A high school diploma or equivalent (GED).
  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Pass a criminal background check.
  • Provide evidence of negative tuberculosis (TB) test results.
  • Proof of required immunizations.
  • Possess essential communication skills, empathy, and a passion for patient care.

Step 2: Enroll in an Accredited LPN Program

Search for accredited LPN programs in your state. These programs are typically offered by community colleges, vocational schools, and technical institutes. The curriculum covers essential topics such as nursing fundamentals, pharmacology, and clinical skills.

Step 3: Complete Classroom and Clinical Training

LPN training programs consist of classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience. In the classroom, you’ll acquire foundational knowledge in nursing theory and medical principles. Clinical training provides invaluable experience working with patients in healthcare settings under the guidance of experienced nurses.

Step 4: Pass the NCLEX-PN Exam

The next critical step is passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). This standardized exam evaluates your nursing knowledge and clinical competency. Success in this exam is a requirement for licensure.

Step 5: Apply for State Licensure

Upon successfully passing the NCLEX-PN exam, you can apply for LPN licensure through your state’s nursing board or licensing authority. Some states may also require additional checks, such as a criminal background check or fingerprinting, as part of the application process.

Step 6: Launch Your LPN Career

With your LPN license in hand, you’re ready to embark on your career as a practical nurse. Job opportunities for LPNs can be found in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, physician’s offices, and clinics. Tailor your resume to highlight your training and clinical experience.

Step 7: Consider Advancing Your Career

As you gain experience as an LPN, you may opt to pursue further education and career advancement opportunities. Some LPNs choose to bridge to become a Registered Nurse (RN) or explore specialized areas within nursing, such as pediatric or geriatric nursing.

Step 8: Maintain Your LPN License

To maintain your LPN license, you’ll typically need to fulfill continuing education requirements as mandated by your state licensing board. It’s essential to stay informed about specific renewal criteria in your state.

Choosing to become a Licensed Practical Nurse is an excellent way to start a fulfilling career in healthcare. LPNs play a vital role in patient care, and the profession offers opportunities for growth and specialization. By following these steps and meeting your state’s requirements, you can embark on a rewarding journey as an LPN, positively impacting the lives of patients and their families.

A Career as a Registered Nurse (RN)

If you have a passion for healthcare and aspire to make a significant impact on patients’ lives, a career as a Registered Nurse (RN) in the United States could be your ideal path. Registered Nurses are at the forefront of patient care, playing a pivotal role in the healthcare industry. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll outline the steps to becoming an RN and explore the exciting opportunities this profession offers.

Understanding the Role of an RN

Before embarking on the journey to become an RN, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the responsibilities and contributions of this essential healthcare role. Registered Nurses are responsible for a wide range of critical tasks, including:

  • Assessing patients’ conditions and developing individualized care plans.
  • Administering medications and treatments as prescribed by physicians.
  • Monitoring patients’ vital signs and symptoms.
  • Providing emotional support to patients and their families.
  • Collaborating with healthcare teams to ensure coordinated and comprehensive care.
  • Educating patients and their families on health management and preventive measures.
  • Maintaining accurate patient records and updating medical histories.

Steps to Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN)

Step 1: Education and Eligibility

Before pursuing RN training, ensure you meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • A high school diploma or equivalent (GED).
  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Pass a criminal background check.
  • Provide evidence of negative tuberculosis (TB) test results.
  • Proof of required immunizations.
  • Possess essential communication skills, empathy, and a passion for patient care.

Step 2: Enroll in an Accredited RN Program

Search for accredited RN programs in your state. These programs are typically offered by colleges, universities, and specialized nursing schools. The curriculum covers essential topics such as nursing theory, anatomy, physiology, and clinical skills.

Step 3: Complete Classroom and Clinical Training

RN training programs consist of classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience. In the classroom, you’ll acquire foundational knowledge in nursing theory and medical principles. Clinical training provides invaluable experience working with patients in healthcare settings under the guidance of experienced nurses.

Step 4: Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

The next crucial step is passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This standardized exam evaluates your nursing knowledge and clinical competency. Success in this exam is a requirement for licensure as an RN.

Step 5: Apply for State Licensure

Upon successfully passing the NCLEX-RN exam, you can apply for RN licensure through your state’s nursing board or licensing authority. Some states may also require additional checks, such as a criminal background check or fingerprinting, as part of the application process.

Step 6: Launch Your RN Career

With your RN license in hand, you’re ready to embark on your career as a registered nurse. Job opportunities for RNs can be found in a wide range of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home healthcare agencies. Customize your resume to highlight your training and clinical experience.

Step 7: Consider Specializations and Further Education

As you gain experience as an RN, you may choose to pursue specialized areas within nursing, such as pediatric, critical care, or psychiatric nursing. Additionally, some RNs opt for further education, such as pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which can open doors to advanced practice roles.

Step 8: Maintain Your RN License

To maintain your RN license, you’ll typically need to fulfill continuing education requirements as mandated by your state licensing board. Staying informed about specific renewal criteria in your state is essential.

Choosing to become a Registered Nurse is a rewarding and noble career path. RNs have a profound impact on patient care and are integral members of healthcare teams. By following these steps and meeting your state’s requirements, you can embark on an enriching journey as an RN, making a positive difference in the lives of patients and their families.

A Career as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

If you are a registered nurse (RN) with a strong passion for patient care and aspire to take your nursing career to the next level, becoming an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) in the United States could be your ideal path. APRNs are highly skilled and specialized nurses who provide advanced healthcare services to patients. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll outline the steps to becoming an APRN and explore the exciting opportunities this advanced nursing profession offers.

Understanding the Role of an APRN

Before embarking on the journey to become an APRN, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the responsibilities and contributions of this advanced healthcare role. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses are highly trained healthcare professionals with specialized knowledge and skills, and they are authorized to perform the following key functions:

  • Diagnosing and treating medical conditions.
  • Prescribing medications.
  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests.
  • Developing treatment plans and providing advanced nursing care.
  • Educating patients on disease prevention and health promotion.
  • Collaborating with other healthcare providers to ensure comprehensive patient care.
  • Offering specialized expertise in various healthcare settings, including primary care, pediatrics, mental health, and more.

Steps to Becoming an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Step 1: Education and RN Licensure

To become an APRN, you must first earn your RN license. This typically involves completing an accredited nursing program, such as an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

Step 2: Gain Clinical Experience as an RN

Before advancing to APRN roles, it’s essential to gain clinical experience as an RN. Many APRN programs require a minimum number of years of nursing experience, typically ranging from one to two years.

Step 3: Choose Your APRN Specialty

APRNs can specialize in various fields, such as Nurse Practitioner (NP), Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). Select the specialty that aligns with your interests and career goals.

Step 4: Enroll in an Accredited APRN Program

Search for accredited APRN programs in your chosen specialty. These programs are typically offered by universities and nursing schools. The curriculum will focus on advanced coursework, clinical rotations, and specialized training in your chosen area of expertise.

Step 5: Complete Clinical Hours and Advanced Training

APRN programs require a substantial number of clinical hours and hands-on training to develop advanced skills and competence in your chosen specialty. You’ll work closely with experienced APRNs and other healthcare professionals.

Step 6: Pass Specialty Certification Exams

Once you’ve completed your APRN program, you’ll need to pass a specialty certification exam specific to your chosen role. Examples include the Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam or the Certified Nurse Midwife Exam.

Step 7: Apply for APRN State Licensure

After obtaining your specialty certification, you can apply for APRN licensure through your state’s nursing board or licensing authority. Some states may require additional checks, such as a criminal background check or fingerprinting, as part of the application process.

Step 8: Launch Your APRN Career

With your APRN license in hand, you’re ready to embark on your career as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. APRNs are in high demand and can find employment opportunities in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, private practices, and more.

Step 9: Maintain APRN Certification and Licensure

To maintain your APRN certification and licensure, you’ll need to fulfill continuing education requirements and stay informed about specific renewal criteria in your state. Ongoing professional development is essential to stay current in your specialized field.

Choosing to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse is a rewarding and intellectually stimulating career path. APRNs have a significant impact on patient care and can offer specialized expertise in various healthcare settings. By following these steps and meeting the specific requirements in your state, you can embark on a fulfilling journey as an APRN, contributing to improved patient outcomes and the advancement of healthcare.

Before you think of gaining licensing however, you must first obtain the correct qualifications. To be eligible to take the RN licensure exam, you’ll need to hold a two- or four-year nursing degree, a three-year nursing diploma, or the relevant RN qualification. Below, we’ve outlined each pathway of how to become a registered nurse in detail, including information on the curriculum and process.

Top 10 Benefits of a Nursing Career

Choosing a career in nursing is more than just a job; it’s a lifelong journey filled with numerous rewards and opportunities. From making a profound impact on patients’ lives to enjoying job stability, the benefits of a nursing career are diverse and far-reaching. In this article, we’ll explore the top 10 advantages of pursuing a nursing profession.

1. Job Security

Nursing careers are like having a job security blanket. Think about it: people get sick, accidents happen, and babies are born every day. Hospitals and clinics need nurses to take care of patients, no matter what. So, if you’re thinking about your future, know that choosing a nursing career can give you a stable and secure job that’s always in demand. It’s like having a safety net for your career! Nursing is a field with consistent demand as healthcare needs are ever-present.

2. Competitive Salaries

Nursing offers competitive compensation, even for entry-level positions. As you gain experience and expertise, your earning potential can significantly increase. Additional benefits such as overtime pay and shift differentials make nursing an attractive choice.

3. Diverse Career Paths

A nursing degree opens doors to a wide range of career options. You can become a Registered Nurse (RN), Nurse Practitioner (NP), Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). These diverse paths enable you to follow your passions and interests.

4. Making a Difference

Nurses play a pivotal role in improving patients’ lives. They provide care, comfort, and support during challenging times. The sense of fulfillment that comes from making a meaningful impact on someone’s health is unparalleled.

5. Lifelong Learning

Healthcare is dynamic and ever-evolving. Nursing encourages continuous learning and professional growth. Staying updated with the latest advancements in medicine keeps your skills relevant and opens doors to career advancement.

6. Opportunities for Advancement

Nursing offers clear pathways for career progression. You can advance to leadership roles such as Nurse Manager or Director of Nursing. Pursuing advanced degrees can lead to careers in education, research, or specialized practice.

7. Global and Travel Opportunities

A nursing degree is versatile and transferable worldwide. Nurses can explore opportunities in different countries, participate in international healthcare initiatives, and contribute to global health. Did you know there are also traveling nurses? Traveling nurses are like healthcare adventurers. They go to different places to help when those places need extra nursing care. It’s like being a nurse explorer! These nurses work for a few months in one place, and then they pack their bags and go somewhere else. They can travel all over the country, and sometimes even to different countries, to work in hospitals, clinics, or other healthcare spots. Traveling nurses are like medical heroes who bring their skills to different communities, and they get to see and experience new things along the way. So, if you love nursing and want to see the world, becoming a traveling nurse might be just the adventure for you!

8. Job Satisfaction

Nursing consistently ranks as one of the most respected professions. The satisfaction of knowing you’ve made a positive difference in patients’ lives is a common sentiment among nurses. They get to help people feel better every day! Imagine how great it would feel to know that you made someone’s pain go away or helped them when they were sick. Nurses also learn lots of new things all the time, so their job never gets boring. Plus, they get to work with a team of awesome healthcare pros and make new friends. And guess what? People really look up to nurses because they’re caring and trusted. So, if you’re thinking about a career that makes you feel proud and happy, nursing might just be the perfect fit!

9. Flexible Work Options

Nursing provides various work settings and flexible scheduling options. Nurses can choose from full-time, part-time, per-diem, or travel nursing positions, allowing for work-life balance.

10. A Supportive Community

Nurses form a tight-knit community that offers support and camaraderie. You’ll build strong bonds with colleagues, creating a network of allies throughout your career.

In conclusion, a nursing career offers a multitude of benefits, including job security, competitive salaries, diverse career paths, and the profound satisfaction of helping others. Whether you’re driven by compassion, seeking job stability, or looking for a dynamic and fulfilling profession, nursing has something to offer everyone. It’s a profession that not only serves society but also enriches the lives of those who choose to embark on this rewarding journey.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses.

National Center for O*NET Development. 29-2061.00. O*NET OnLine.

The career videos are in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.